The Importance of Surgical Care: Edna Adan Ismail's Story

Edna Adan Ismail was determined to build a hospital in resource-poor Somaliland, a region scarred by decades of colonialism, military dictatorship, and civil war. After the civil war, Somaliland was left with a lack of adequate hospital and surgical equipment and an abundance of victims in need of amputations.

International organizations such as the WHO, however, prioritized preventive health care and medicine . It was later realized that surgery was a necessary component of preventive care and has substantial impact in a patient's life course. A supreme example would be a child with a repaired cleft lip and palate avoiding early childhood malnutrition.

Having been born in British Somaliland to a physician, Edna Adan would often follow her father around in the hospital he worked in. From these experiences, she understood the importance of health care from a very young age. After years of hard work, Edna Adan became a nurse and a midwife. Fortunate to have the breadth of experience both nationally and internationally from her position as the first lady of Somaliland, she decided that she was going to build a maternity hospital. After working with the patients in her hospital, her perspective on preventive care changed. She states:

I am a great believer in preventive and public health, but reality has taught me that today’s emergency needs a solution today. You cannot have only medical services—there’s got to be medical and surgical facilities. The role of surgery in the health system of any nation is crucial because it is not an option that we can either take or leave. Most of it are life-preserving interventions. It’s an important part of health care.

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Transformation in Somaliland: Edna Adan Maternity Hospital

Fistula: Why is this still a thing?

This week, for the first time ever, The World Health Assembly held a special side event to specifically address the lack of essential surgery to the low income countries around the world. Member countries from around the globe gathered to create strategies to start saving lives.

 A young Bangladeshi woman receives an ultrasound at a Grameen health center in rural Bangladesh.

A young Bangladeshi woman receives an ultrasound at a Grameen health center in rural Bangladesh.

Today is the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula. Obstetric fistula is one of the single most shocking examples of the disparate access to simple surgical care around the world- a medieval disease we don't hear about here in the US or other developed nations. For example, the NYC Waldorf-Astoria now occupies the space where the last fistula hospital in New York stood. Fistula has been all but eliminated in the United States - the last official case was in the 19th century.

The WHA side event and today's International Day to End Obstetric Fistula call to attention one of the most important issues facing us as a community today: Why are women still dying, and becoming injured, from simply bearing children? As reported at the WHA this week:

  • Somalia has one of the world's highest rates of maternal death: 4,200 mothers die giving birth every year. Most of these deaths are completely preventable.
  • Angola: After thirty years of war, is there an answer to getting simple surgical solutions to the people most affected?
  • Kenya officials made the passionate case to the World Health Assembly that the time to argue over whether surgical care was necessary (or should be considered "primary care") is over. It is now time to act.

We are happy to report that The Right to Heal is on the forefront of the active pursuit to bring awareness to these issues. We have screened at over 25 institutions in 6 countries including the WHO,UN, and the UK parliament. In addition, several of our partners (Kupona Foundation, Lifebox and ICES) all have concrete actions we can take to help. See their blog posts here:

Fistula is treatable by Kupona 

To Speak Plainly: Obstetric Fistula by Lifebox

International Day to End Fistula by ICES

In addition, we invite you to SIGN THIS PETITION and to view the touching story from The Right to Heal about Priscilla, a survivor of obstetric fistula.

Why is The Right to Heal story so compelling?

We've been approached by people who have stumbled upon our website, or seen the film at a screening. They may have heard about us from one of our events, or been referred by some of our partners. In every case, they are moved by the message of The Right to Heal and they all ask the same questions.

                                                        What are the next steps?

                                                         What can I do to help?

There is something compelling about the stories in The Right to Heal. The film moves people to want to be involved. When you see Priscilla's smile, and the waning pain it is replacing in her heart, it's little wonder that the cry for help is answered.

 Ana Elise Beckman, University of Wisconsin student.

Ana Elise Beckman, University of Wisconsin student.

Early last year, a student from Wisconsin found our website asked if there was anything she could do to help. What we did was to set up a screening at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Motivated only by the desire to help the mission of The Right to Heal and ICES: to make essential surgery available to every citizen on the planet, a group of students independently raised the money for the venue, refreshments, organized a panel of experts, promoted the event and invited the attendees to participate on their own.

  Dr. Heidi Brown: Ob-Gyn: Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgeon & Dr. Delora Mount: Plastic and Reconstructive Facial Surgeon

Dr. Heidi Brown: Ob-Gyn: Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgeon & Dr. Delora Mount: Plastic and Reconstructive Facial Surgeon

There is a human face behind the issues of global health. It is difficult to understand what figures mean, like 2 billion people without access to healthcare or even the shocking statistic of almost 800 women dying every day in childbirth. However, when you actually SEE a survivor of obstructed labor, and hear the voice of an injured child, it motivates you.

  Dr. James Conway: Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist; University of Wisconsin

Dr. James Conway: Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist; University of Wisconsin

See the film yourself to discover what we mean.

The Loudest Voice in the Room

It's not every day you attend a meeting like we did at the UN Foundation in New York last Thursday. It's not every day you see world-renowned surgeons, major corporate activists, UN officials, and foreign diplomats gathered together to talk about essential surgery. When you do, there are always a lot of good ideas discussed, and we leave with a higher degree of hope, and excitement about solutions to bring essential surgery to the world.


But we've seen those type of meetings before. On February 6th, we saw a first. For the first time, an official representative from a country - Tanzania to be exact - attended, listened and offered a formal statement from her country. Ms. Ellen Maduhu, from the Permanent Mission to the UN for Tanzania, delivered a prepared statement about essential surgery, and how lack of access to it is affecting her nation.

“In Tanzania every year 454 women die from pregnancy related complications for every 100,000 live births. Most maternal deaths occur during childbirth and in the immediate postpartum. Statistics on maternal mortality identify bleeding, unsafe abortion, pregnancy-induced hypertension, obstructed labour, and infections as the common direct causes of death…

 Majority of deaths can be prevented, if pregnant women can be assured of access to skilled attendance at childbirth and emergency obstetric care when pregnancy-related complications occur.


 The Government of Tanzania is committed to end preventable maternal and child mortality in all segments of our society, to ensure that women get access to health services and do not die from pregnancy complications, the Government has continued to expand coverage of Primary Health Facilities and strengthen provision of comprehensive and basic Emergency Obstetric and Newborn care equipment nationwide."

Ms. Maduhu spoke with passion. She brought with her a recommendation from the Tanzanian Government that essential surgery be included as a sustainable development goal in the post-2015 agenda within the framework of universal healthcare.

And that's when it hit us.

This movement is real. It's happening. This isn't just a group of non-profits, of interested and passionate healthcare providers, of activists and filmmakers. We have the attention of the governments of the world, and after this UN-approved event, we have an official statement from Tanzania, that essential surgery be recognized by the public health sector.

Ms. Maduhu was one of many speakers. We also heard from Anita Sharma,  Senior Director, Millennium Development Goals Initiatives, Every Woman, Every Child, UN Foundation. Maya Azucena, Global Singer, Cultural Ambassador and human rights activist touched on the real, hopeful human element of the issue. Gillian Slinger of the Campaign to End Fistula, United Nations Population Fund was in attendance, and she made the case for completely ending fistula, world-wide. Ray Price, from WHO gave us the Mongolian case-study on how to make essential surgery work, even in places where infrastructure is almost non-existent. All spoke beautifully and with power.

But Ms. Ellen Maduhu, quiet, polite and non-assuming, made the loudest speech of all.

"The prevention of maternal mortality is the basic right of all women and we must make it our priority."

The Right to Heal is not just a film. It's becoming a fact.

The Right to Heal in The Big Apple

UN Side Event Screening

In conjunction with the United Nations Open Working Group Side Event on Equality for Women and Children, we're working with ICES to raise awareness for essential surgery worldwide. 


In attendance will be officials from international health organizations, renowned surgeons and policy makers from around the world. We're getting ready for the Post-2015 agenda for the new Millennium Development Goals. Watch for upcoming posts about the event. In the meantime, like us on Facebook.

Lifebox Day in London: Global Health Convention

The Right to Heal in the UK again


For the second time, we've screened The Right to Heal in the UK, this time as part of Lifebox Day. The Lifebox Foundation is an organization that emphasizes safety in surgical procedure, especially in parts of the world where a life saving surgery is one of the most dangerous things a person can do. Lifebox is an important ally in the efforts for global health.


And that's what this event was about: global health. When we focus on global health issues as a community, we can make actual progress. The Right to Heal was showed to over 70 colleagues interested in global surgery - experts from all over the world - and, as always, the film had an impact.

"The human cost of lack of access to safe surgery worldwide was given an unflinching, high definition focus."


We're passionate about global health, and we're actively creating resources to make a difference. If you'd like to be part of the solution, you can start by signing the petition. 

Happy Holidays from The Right to Heal Team!


2 Billion people worldwide have no access to surgery

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Become a champion for increasing access to Essential Surgery worldwide

University of Washington, Seattle

 Stephanie Edlund, Dr. Jaymie Ang Henry, and Dr. Charlie Mock

Stephanie Edlund, Dr. Jaymie Ang Henry, and Dr. Charlie Mock

On Monday October 21st, the UW Global Health Resource Center, the Global Health Group, and the Surgery Interest Group co-sponsored a screening of The Right to Heal at the Medical Sciences Building Health Sciences Center at the University of Washington campus, which brought together over 60 medical students, residents, and faculty with a focus on global health.  The screening, initiated by Stephanie Edlund of the University of Washington’s Global Health Resource Center, was our gracious host and event organizer.

An introduction was given by Dr. Charlie Mock; Professor of Surgery, Epidemiology, and Global Health at University of Washington School of Medicine and School of Public Health, and former technical officer of the World Health Organization, Violence and Injury Prevention Department. Dr. Mock spoke about his experiences working on various research projects, education and training in Ghana and about the need for increased attention and support from international health organizations and programs in developing nations.  

Dr. Jaymie Ang Henry highlighted her personal and professional journey in seeing the poorest populations in her native country,  the Philippines, where the lack  of medical and specifically surgical care in rural areas  inspired her to embark on her quest to create awareness around surgery in developing countries.  


After the screening, there was a facilitated discussion between Dr. Mock, Dr. Henry and the medical students  who became actively engaged in the issues surrounding the surgical deficit globally and were particularly interested in the role of clinical officers in workforce training and the delivery of surgical services along with wanting to know more about the challenges surrounding infrastructure and equipment gaps. Their interest lie in career advancement opportunities in this area, and how they will be able to contribute in this stage of their lives and careers to effectively join this movement.

Proactively, they asked, “What can I do now and what can I do to prepare for the future?”.  Our answer was to acknowledge that,  “The problems that limit access to surgery are very complicated, due to the requirement for a transfer of knowledge.  The actual basic surgical procedure that needs to be deployed is something that is already known but delivering surgical care, creating political will around it, rallying resources, and creating the framework for a global strategy requires the effort of all the stakeholders in surgical care and not just surgeons themselves. It also requires the commitment and collaboration of the global health and international health community in tandem”.  Dr. Henry emphasized that the problems in surgical care are not simply medical in nature,  and must also be focused on the need to strengthen the supply chain/process.  She brought up the challenge of how we transport this technology into an area where there is none. Dr. Mock shared his personal experiences working as a surgeon in Ghana for four years and encouraged the students to follow their interest in the field of surgery, for that's where they will be most well-placed to make a difference. 

The evening ended with students thanking the organizers for taking the initiative to bring awareness of this growing problem.  Some expressed interest in wanting to spread the message and promote the film and we welcomed their collaboration as the film and the movement grows.


LA Screening at SoHo House attracts Media Insiders


On September 20, 2013 at the exclusive private media industry club, SoHo House in West Hollywood; our hosts screened “The Right to Heal” to over 50 media and industry insiders seeking to understand the social relevance and need for global essential surgery in helping  the world's poorest by increasing global access to surgery.

The host committee Kerry Brown, Stacey Sher, Jay Faires, and Emily Greener assembled a personalized guest list who welcomed Producer and Director, Jaymie Ang Henry who imparted the film's mission and vision. She spoke of the need for essential surgery and anesthesia including the need for the proper equipment to make surgery accessible.

Following the screening, the guests participated in a lively Q&A with a robust discussion and brainstorming on how the media and lay people can be involved in framing the message about essential surgery.  We received much praise and welcomed feedback about the film, which was appreciated and will be applied as we continue to grow the film with our plans to include stories from around the globe.

Several interested parties have been in touch with R2H and will be moving forward in support of our film and movement. We are grateful for the opportunity to reach this illustrious community who has shown such willing support.  Thank you to Kerry, Stacey, Jay and Emily for a successful and entertaining evening! 


The Right to Heal at the International Orthopaedic Surgery Summit in San Francisco

The Right to Heal was screened at the closing of the 3-day International Orthopaedic Wound Management Summit on September 16, 2013 at San Francisco General Hospital, hosted by the Institute for Global Orthopaedics and Traumatology, IGOT.

Over 50 surgeons from 17 countries like Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and the Philippines attended to learn more than 20 techniques in orthopaedic wound care. Jaymie Ang Henry, M.D., M.P.H and producer of The Right to Heal, spoke after the screening on the need for a WHO policy change so that surgery is made a global primary health care concern and emphasized the message of the film's patients and caregivers who demonstrate how surgery will, and does, change the lives of those who have timely access to it.

TRTH at IGOT 9_16_13 .jpg

The surgeons, in a discussion sparked by the film, acknowledged that while surgery is accessible in the larger city hospitals in their countries, the rural areas, which are admittedly under resourced, would greatly benefit from localized healthcare education to inform the patients and the traditional bone setters of the need to make timely orthapaedic referrals for surgery.

A request was made for information about locating and partnering with non-government organizations so that medical providers and town leaders are able to reach out for assistance and the surgeons are able to locate the right organizations to contribute and participate.  Dr. Henry urged the surgeons to maintain contact with IGOT as well as The Right to Heal, speak to their governments and Ministers of Health, provide data sets, pass along their knowledge by teaching, and to join in moving global surgery policy forward until it takes its' rightful place on the world stage.

Several surgeons from different areas in the Philippines who had just met at the summit joined together in response to Dr. Henry's request to affect treatment for one of the film's subjects. Rodney is a 7 year old boy, now 8, living in the Philippines and unable to attend school due to complications of living with clubfoot. In this way, the film is achieving notable goals, in bringing treatment to Rodney, who would have otherwise gone unnoticed and without care.

Philipines Surgeons IGOT Summit.jpeg

The Right to Heal looks forward to continued exposure from future screenings and thanks the surgeons that attended the summit for viewing the film and for joining them in support of this global surgery movement.

Special Thanks to Amber Caldwell,  Director of Development at Institute for Global Orthopaedics and Traumatology (IGOT) for our invitation to screen The Right to Heal.

NYC Debut and Screening at Gradian Health


We're pleased to announce the New York City debut and screening of our film, 'The Right to Heal' at Gradian Health Systems on July 31, 2013.

Erica Frenkel (Gradian Health) and Katie Flannagan (Kupona Foundation) hosted the evening at the Gradian Health offices on 160 5th Avenue, NY.  

We are proud to have the support and partnership of Gradian Health Systems, which equip hospitals around the world to deliver anaesthesia safely and economically, in a wide variety of environments, on patients of any age.

Our close ties with Kupona Foundation contributed strength to our combined message about improving global healthcare for women.  Kupona Foundation is working in Tanzania and partnering on the ground with CCBRT, a local NGO and the Ministry of Health of Tanzania to ensure American support has maximum social impact abroad by improving health care, particularly in the area of maternal and newborn health.  


Jaymie Ang Henry, MD, MPH, addressed the crowd with eloquence about the paradigm shift in global surgical care that must occur to bring basic surgery to developing countries and to the people most in need, as a primary global health concern.


The private event attracted global health organizations, members of international agencies and health professionals interested in furthering the message on essential surgery. The evening was summed up by our hostess Emily, "What a wonderful night...the film was just beautiful".

We want to thank our friends and partners who gave us a wonderful New York welcome and such encouragement in helping us give voice to our growing film and message and continuing to spread the word. 

Our fall screening will include new footage from our upcoming travels where we will continue to  document the inspiring stories of those in need of basic surgery today, and the provocative testimonies of their providers and supporters.  We look forward to our fall screening and to seeing all of our New York partners and friends again soon.


The Right to Heal Film Premiere

2013-07-03 12.44.55.jpg

"The Right to Heal", a film about essential surgery, made its United States Premiere at the Inaugural Bay Area Global Health Film Festival at Public Works in San Francisco, California on July 12, 2013.

The first year festival was co-organized by Amber Caldwell, Director of Development at Institute for Global Orthopaedics and Traumatology (IGOT), Jaymie Ang Henry, M.D., M.P.H., Founder & Executive Board Member, International Collaboration for Essential Surgery (ICES), and Zak Armitage, Marketing Manager at LIM Innovations. The festival attracted an audience of over 300.

2013-07-08 08.35.40.jpg

Amber Caldwell kicked off the event with a warm welcome and introduction to guest speaker, Dr. Thomas Weiser from the Department of Trauma Surgery & Surgical Critical Care at Stanford University, who delivered a global health message focused on a new paradigm in bringing surgery to the world stage.  Dr. Jaymie Ang Henry spoke of how the film 'The Right to Heal' aims to shed light on the neglected issues in surgical care globally and the need for concerned individuals and organizations to unite in bringing international attention to issues in providing essential surgery to poorly-served areas of the world.

'The Right to Heal' gave us an intimate look at the lives of individuals in need of essential surgery and their incredibly inspiring and innovative providers who are looking for solutions and change in global surgical care.


Dr. Jaymie Ang Henry, co-producer and Director, along with James Carroll and Alemberg Ang, brought us compelling storytelling and beautiful images of people affected by disabilities that are easily treatable, such as cleft lip and clubfoot, and women affected by the consequences of not having timely, safe, and appropriate cesarean section resulting in fistulas, the appalling life they are submitted to, physically and socially, and those who are disabled for life as a result of little or no access to essential surgical care.

Filmed thus far in developing rural areas in the Philippines, Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, and Bangladesh, they will grow their film by adding stories from their upcoming filming in Ecuador, Cambodia and Mongolia.

Brought to us by San Francisco filmmaker, director and writer Mike Seely, “The Most Distant Places” follows Dr. Edgar Rodas and his team to the far reaches of Ecuador, interweaving intimate portrayals of the challenges of providing health care for impoverished people located far from adequate medical facillities.


Also screened at the event was "Losing a LIMb-Life without your Own 2 Feet" by Doctor's Ray and Andy Burson.  The filmmakers are brothers and surgeons whose mission is to empower, educate, and train communities about prevention, management, and the consequences of diabetes and amputation.

Global Health Organizations partnered for the event were:  IGOT Institute for Global Orthopaedics and Traumatology, ICES International Collaboration for Essential Surgery, Own2Feet, A little4alot, LIM Innovations, UCSF Global Health Sciences, Samahope, ReSurge, and LifeBox.  To connect please visit:

The event created exposure for 'The Right to Heal' to the surgical and global health care community and highlighted the need for global essential surgery which has resulted in invitations for screenings at festivals and organizations throughout the US and abroad in the coming weeks and months which will serve to promote the filmmakers message to increase awareness. Please visit the film's website at for upcoming events/screenings.